November 2018 Test Matches

France vs South Africa

Saturday, 10th November

Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 21h05 local; 20h05 GMT; 22h05 SA Time
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley (England), Tom Foley (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

Rassie Erasmus could not resist poking a bit of cheeky fun at World Rugby and their referees during the last couple of days. At the post-match media conference after the Test at Twickenham, he said that the “tackle” by Owen Farrell was “really effective” and that “if it was legal, we must really practice that” – and then he was ostensibly videoed by a bystander, conducting a tackle practice with Andre Esterhuizen where he showed him how to tackle with the shoulder without using his arms.

That video was posted to social media by someone, and immediately went viral around the rugby world.

Some might feel that he went too far in poking fun at the authorities, but he had the right to be more than a little miffed at the lack of action by the match officials and the absolute silence from the World Rugby authorities after the event. He was certainly making a clear point, especially after those self-same authorities threw Craig Joubert under the bus after a penalty call against Scotland, or when Angus Gardiner was criticised for issuing a red card against France. They certainly spoke loudly enough when Glenn Newman did not award a try to Wales in the Six Nations earlier this year. Yet they remain silent about the Farrell tackle………

Perhaps there is method in Erasmus’s focus on the disputed tackle. France are known to play a robust game with their tacklers making very big hits, often perhaps even borderline in terms of legality. There can also be no doubt that the referees will be focussing closely on the legality of tackles in the coming weeks, and Nigel Owens is one of the very best. He is listed to referee this Test against France! He will be very aware of the tackle situation in this game.

South Africa have spent the week trying to figure out why they lost to England last weekend. They had the ball, they had the territorial advantage, yet they did not score enough points. This is a team that put eight tries past the All Blacks in the Rugby Championships, yet they only scored one against an England team that appeared out for the count at times during that game.

Have no doubt that much of this week has been spent on fixing those inaccuracies and poor decisions that marred last week’s game.

South Africa will have shaken off any post-Rugby Championships ring rust.

France, however, will come into this Test a bit ring rusty.

They too will be a little leery of refereeing controversies.

They have not played together since the 23rd June when they lost to the All Blacks 49 – 14. In the eight Tests they have played in 2018, they have been on the losing side 6 times, beating just England and Italy in the Six Nations back in March. Although some of their Six Nations losses were close run things they were thumped by New Zealand 52-11, 26-13, and then 49-14.

It is, sadly, true that all three their mid-year Tests against New Zealand were marred by some atrocious refereeing blunders!

Three controversial decisions in as many Tests suggested to the French that the match officials were against them from the start.

Paul Gabrillagues’ clearly incorrect yellow card at Eden Park shown by referee Luke Pearce of England with the able assistance of Australian George Ayoub as the TMO.

That decision was followed in the same Test by the blind-eye turned to the skull fracturing double-act of Sam Cane and Ofa Tu’ungafasi.

And then the second Test came along with referee Angus Gardiner of Australia and his counytryman, George Ayoub again as the TMO, saw the first-half sending off of Benjamin Fall in Wellington – which World Rugby’s judiciary said was a mistake by Angus Gardner.

The third Test provided yet another intervention by the referee when

John Lacey of Ireland officiated. Once again, George Ayoub was the TMO. In the 31st minute of the third Test Lacey was clearly in the way of Baptiste Serin who was attempting to get to Damian McKenzie as he burst for the goal line. Lacey very clearly blocked Serin and prevented the tackle. Lacey was adamant it was a fair try.

Without digging too deeply into yet more refereeing controversies, both teams will be hoping that Nigel Owens has a good day in Paris!

Refereeing controversies aside, these are two teams playing with a specific goal in mind. South Africa want to get the end-of-year tour on track, fixing the problems and issues that lost them the Test against England, while France need a win, any win, just to get themselves back into some sort of form before the Six Nations. Coach Jacques Brunel has said that this game is  “must win” for France!

Both teams have the motivation, Stade de France, Paris, provides the venue.

Selection News:

France:

Montpellier number eight Louis Picamoles has been named in France’s starting line-up that will take on South Africa in Paris on Saturday.

This will be Picamoles’ first start for France since their 23-23 draw with Japan in Naterre last November.

Coach Jacques Brunel has made 13 changes in all to his run-on side which suffered a 49-14 defeat to New Zealand in Dunedin, in their last Test in June.

Teddy Thomas (wing) and Yoann Maestri (lock) are the only survivors from that encounter which was the last of a three-Test series which the All Blacks won 3-0.

Picamoles is joined in the back-row by flankers Arthur Iturria and Wenceslas Lauret while Sebastien Vahaamahina packs down next to Maestri in the second-row. Toulon hooker Guilhem Guirado will captain the side and Cedate Gomes Sa and Jefferson Poirot are the two props.

In the backline, Clermont fly-half Camille Lopez is over his injury worries and will wear the number 10 jersey while Baptiste Serin will start at scrum-half and Geoffrey Doumayrou and Mathieu Bastareaud form the centre paring.

Maxime Medard lines up at full-back while Thomas is joined out wide by Damian Penaud, who makes his first appearance for France on the wing after playing as a centre in his five previous Tests.

South Africa:

The experienced trio of Willie le Roux, Faf de Klerk and Franco Mostert are back in the Springbok starting XV for their Test against France.

The inclusion of le Roux, de Klerk and Mostert – with close to 100 Test caps between them – are the only changes announced by Rassie Erasmus to the run-on team when he confirmed the Springbok matchday 23 on Thursday.

Le Roux takes over the 15 duties from Damian Willemse while De Klerk comes in at scrum-half to replace Ivan van Zyl, with the rest of the backline kept unchanged. Willemse and van Zyl are rested for this game.

Mostert replaces Eben Etzebeth, who sustained a foot injury in last weekend’s 12-11 loss to England at Twickenham, in the only change to the pack.

Boosted by the availability of the Boks’ European-based players, Erasmus also announced three changes to the replacements. Vincent Koch comes in as loosehead cover, Francois Louw as loose-forward cover and Cheslin Kolbe as the utility back cover are set to provide impact off the bench.

Thoughts:

This Test is more about answering questions than anything else.

Rassie Erasmus has turned the Springbok team around since taking over a scant 8 months ago. He took over a team that had sunk to abysmal depths in the previous two years. A team devoid of any esprit de corps, a cogent game plan, leadership, confidence, and that critical component called experience. He took over a bunch of rookies and a couple of elder statesmen. Somehow, in the short space of just eight months he has welded, melded, and merged them into something that resembles a Springbok team.

As I said in last week’s preview, so far he has achieved something akin to a miracle.

I am reminded of Clive Woodward’s eight years that he required to build

England into a World Cup winning team. I am reminded of Steve

Hansen’s 14 years in the All Black coaching set-up, head coach since 2012. I am reminded that it takes time to build a rugby team, and I am quite astounded by the changes Rassie Erasmus has facilitated!

South Africans are the most unforgiving rugby fans in all of creation. They demand instant results, or else. I would suggest just a modicum of patience!

This weekend the Springboks play France, and it will be yet another measure of their development, another measure of their rebuilding, and yet another measurement of the changes brought about by Rassie Erasmus.

When I measure the two teams against one another on paper, I keep noticing the progress, that there are units developing in the Springbok squad, there is continuity of selection, and there are signs of stability in each area of focus.

The French team, in contrast, seems to be in a bit of disarray. This team shows 13 changes to the side that lost to New Zealand in Dunedin in June. Just two players have been retained from that team, Teddy Thomas amongst the backs and Yoann Maestri at lock.

They do have some salted old warriors returning to the team, their captain Guilhem Guirado missed the June tour and is back in the middle of their front row. Louis Picamoles is back at No.8, while Camille Lopez is over his injuries and starts at flyhalf again.

There are some surprises too, with Arthur Iturria starting on the flank, after earning all his other international caps in the second row. Damian Penaud is moved from his regular centre berth to the wing.

Once again, it is the Springbok front five, the heavy artillery, that look formidable and will be causing the French some serious thought. The French front five has often been the foundation of their game in recent years, and they can be sure that the Springboks will be looking to establish some sort of dominance in the set pieces. Despite Eben Etzebeth having to sit this one out, the return of Franco Mostert does not represent any weakening of the second row. He brings his exceptional lineout skills back into the team.

The Springbok scrum has been powerful, their drives and mauls have been solid, and their support play, ball carrying, and cleaning out has been top quality.

The return of Faf de Klerk at scrumhalf and Willie le Roux at fullback certainly bring added strength to the spine of the team. Both are playmakers, with the added bonus of De Klerk’s hustling bustling play around the fringes and at the breakdowns. Le Roux’s silky running and uncanny ability to create opportunities for his wingers adds a special dimension to the back division.

The return of both De Klerk and Le Roux will help repair the wayward decision-making of last weekend.

Malcolm Marx let himself down last weekend, and we can expect him to ramp up his game, back to the levels everyone expects of him. We can expect him to work at stamping his authority on the game in all phases. His lineout throws to the tail of the line have been wonky, so I would suggest that the Springbok lineout callers, usually Franco Mostert, will be focussing on throwing the ball to their more proficient catchers, Pieter-Steph du Toit and himself, with Vermeulen, Kolisi and Whiteley being used as alternate receivers in the front or middle.

France are a team that boasts some physical forwards, and they enjoy the rough stuff of the mauls and drives more than most. They will also offer some serious competition over the ball at the breakdown. The Springboks will be looking at Marx, Vermeulen, Mostert and Kitshoff to establish control at the turnovers.

Much has been said about the Springboks inability to convert opportunity into a score. Yet, this is a Springbok team that put 8 tries past the All Blacks in just two games. Not many teams can brag about that achievement, ever.

The reality is that the Springboks need to be more consistent, game to game. Once they have discovered the killer instinct to go with the finishing that we know they can produce from time to time, they will be a very difficult team to contain.

This game could go a long way to knocking off the rough edges and smoothing some of the wrinkles in their game.

I do not see the Springboks deviating from the game that they know works. Direct rugby, up the middle. Hard, physical, with the intent to subdue, and then penetrate. They have the runners and the finishers out wide. Now they have to put it all together.

Prediction:

I cannot but think that this Springbok team is slowly but surely edging towards maturity and a style of play that will become consistently winning rugby. With each game they have played in 2018 they have made mistakes, and then come back to show that they have learned from those mistakes.

This week I am expecting a more polished, a more focussed, and an equally determined Springbok effort.

An effort that will be too much for France.

The Springboks, by some 15 points.

The Teams:

France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Damian Penaud, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Arthur Iturria, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Mathieu Babillot, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Anthony Belleau, 23 Gael Fickou

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Cheslin Kolbe